U.S. Dedicated to Supporting Mideast Reforms, Zoellick Says

Deputy secretary says political, economic reforms should be mutually reinforcing

By David ShelbyWashington File Staff Writer

Dead Sea, Jordan -- Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick says the United States is committed to helping countries in the Middle East and North Africa implement political and economic reforms that are mutually reinforcing.

"The old days of a foreign policy characterized only by the meetings and machinations of 'diplomatic statecraft' are past," Zoellick told participants at the third World Economic Forum in Jordan May 20. "The transformational diplomacy of the United States will integrate the political and reform efforts of [the Middle East and North Africa] into the core of our foreign policy."

Zoellick said the United States sees this sort of engagement as fundamental to establishing peace, prosperity and security. He outlined several U.S. initiatives aimed at supporting reform efforts in the region, including the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) initiative.

BMENA is designed to bring together government officials, business leaders and representatives of civil society from the countries of the Group of Eight nations (G8) and those of the region in order to generate dialogue aimed at identifying areas needing political and economic reforms. (The G8 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia.)

MEPI is a State Department initiative supporting political, economic and educational reform programs in the region.

MEFTA is a presidential initiative to draft free-trade agreements with the countries of the region and ultimately to knit those agreements together into a regional free-trade area by 2013.
Zoellick said that all types of reform are interlinked. He said improved education, elimination of trade barriers, the rule of law, women's empowerment and support for private enterprise all contribute to stronger democratic institutions, better trade, higher investment flows and greater prosperity.

On the other hand, he said, "weak governmental accountability and the lack of public participation limits the abilities of business and civil society groups to become agents of economic reform." He said corruption and lack of transparency undermine trust and entrepreneurial initiative.

Zoellick urged the countries of the region to strengthen the institutions of democracy, noting that elections alone do not make a democratic society. He said the true test of democracy is to be found in such things as minority rights, a free press, the right of free assembly and the protection of privacy.

The deputy secretary said that change can be both exciting and threatening. "For some, the metamorphosis is invigorating -- a welcome 'Arab Spring.' For others, the changes are alive with possibilities, but also pose uncertainties. A number are confused. After all, how does one prepare for a future of unprecedented freedom? There are doubters, too, and even those whose opposition has hardened into enmity," he said.

But he said the United States is prepared to be a full and respectful partner for change in the region.

"Together we need to face the challenges of transformation," he said. "Together we need to learn from one another and work with one another."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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